Today, university life is so diverse that its many different facets blend to create a unique academic and personal experience. Between studying different subjects, a rigorous course load and the opportunity to study abroad, universities offer a variety of exciting educational opportunities. But, what many students don’t seem to realise is that seemingly basic experiences, such as their choice of accommodation, can have just as great an impact on their enjoyment of university as their actual coursework.

As it turns out, new and exciting social prospects are just as important as the ‘studying thing’!

The norms for student housing will differ depending on where in the world you’re attending university. While many European schools don’t offer university accommodation, it’s a very common practice in places like the UK and North America. At some universities, living on-campus, or in a university dorm is standard. At other schools, students may be responsible for securing their own, independent, off-campus housing, which isn’t actually associated with the school at all. If you already live close to your university, you might continue to live at home and choose to commute to school.

For international or study abroad students, however, securing accommodation can be a daunting and confusing task. If on-campus housing is an option for international students, it eases the transition to living and studying abroad, provides an outlet to meet new people and is one less concern for students hunting for housing from another country.

There are many perks to living on-campus; typically, students are extremely close to campus, being a short walk away from their classes and university buildings. Students will never appreciate the proximity to campus more than that first day they wake up late for class! There’s nothing quite like the mad-dash across campus in your pyjamas, running to make that pesky 9am lecture. In addition to living on your university’s doorstep, living in a college dorm is an experience that will have just as much of an impact on students as their studies.

There is also one major social aspect that accompanies living in a college dorm. Many dorm rooms house multiple students, meaning you get to experience living with a roommate (or four…), maybe for the first time ever. This roommate might have been randomly selected for you, so you also get to experience living with a complete stranger. Although it sounds a bit scary, living with a roommate can be a lot of fun! Some colleges do offer single dorms if you’re much more inclined to a bit of privacy.

If you do opt for on-campus living, you might end up sharing more than just a bedroom. Most dorms have communal bathrooms, lounge areas and kitchens. For many, especially freshman or first-year students, learning to share all these common spaces is a major experience in itself. Some students may be used to and enjoy their privacy, but have to quickly learn to wait in line for the shower, or wait their turn when it comes to using the oven. Here’s a tip – if you’re a night owl, the showers in communal bathrooms are almost always free around 2am. Oh, and you NEED shower flip-flops…you definitely, definitely need them…

For the majority of the time, university dorms are pretty social settings.Many students become friends with neighbours, do homework in the study lounges or cook a communal dinner. While some dorms might be more social than others, there’s typically one factor that makes the biggest impression on students, especially freshmen: co-ed dorms – that’s both men and women, living side-by-side. Some are co-ed by room, meaning each room on a floor will be alternating; male, female, male, female. Other dorms may be co-ed by floor, meaning women live on the first floor, and men on the second.

For many students, living in a mixed dorm may be the first time they have lived in such close confines with the opposite sex, and typically, hilarity ensues! But never fear – almost every university will have single-sex bathrooms, so ladies, don’t worry about sharing a toilet with the lads in your building.

Not every dorm will be co-ed. Depending on the university, students may be able to choose between living in co-ed dorms, single-sex dorms, substance-free dorms, or living in an actual dorm room versus suite accommodation, with its own bathroom, and if you’re lucky, even your own kitchen. Universities with housing tend to offer several different options so you can apply the accommodation that best suits you.

The biggest pro for living in campus accommodation is definitely the social aspect. In the United States, living on campus is incredibly popular, and sometimes even mandatory for first-year students. You can almost guarantee that if asked, almost all first-year American students would say the bulk of their social interactions and friendships were made within their dormitory. By living on campus, you are always surrounded by other people whether you want to be or not, so you are bound to make lots of new friends.

As with anything, there is of course a downside to living in university housing. To put it lightly, campus dorms aren’t always the most pleasant place to live. You may be forced to share a small, square room with another person for a year – now that’s one way to truly test your patience! And if you have a big exam coming up, you may want to hit the library…it can be pretty hard to concentrate in such tight spaces. College dorms don’t always offer the quietest study environments, so getting work done at home isn’t always easy.

University housing costs are, unfortunately, non-negotiable, unless students can get a scholarship to cover living costs. In addition, almost every dorm has an RA, or Resident Assistant, who lives on each floor. These RAs are typically upper-classmen who are charged with organising events and being there to lend a hand to students living in their building. RAs are also responsible for keeping the peace, so generally, you won’t find many wild parties happening in university accommodation.

For students who don’t want to live on-campus, many big schools exist in a “college” town, meaning the bulk of people living in the area are students and faculty. In situations like this, there are typically apartment buildings and housing complexes that aren’t associated with the university, but are still predominantly there for the student market. In this case, residents can still experience living alongside peers, but (hopefully) in a nicer, (if you’re lucky) larger living space.

These student apartments and homes are ideal for students who don’t want to live on campus, but only want to commit to a one-year lease. Many of these complexes will align the start date of the lease with the academic year, making it the ideal situation for students.

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For international students, sorting student accommodation can seem a daunting task when you’re scanning online from a completely different country. More and more universities, including those in Europe, are offering solutions to student housing, whether it be in formal campus housing or an off-campus apartment complex specifically reserved for students. Whatever choice you make when deciding where to live, your decision will definitely impact your overall student experience. If you’re looking for something close to campus where you can meet new people and you don’t mind bunking up, opt for a university dorm!

If you’re willing to sacrifice location for a nicer apartment with a bit more freedom, get out there and find your own, independent housing. Both are great options, and will affect university life in completely different ways – so think hard, and please choose wisely!

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